For the past 40-odd years the media coverage of Waitangi Day, such as it is, has focused on protest or disruption at Te Tii marae, the Ngāpuhi hosts of the official Waitangi Day proceedings.
New Zealand history is violent; Treaty issues are complex; Māori haven't made any social advances without kicking up a stink first. These are incontrovertible components of Waitangi Day for us as Māori, which makes it very hard for anyone else to pretend everything's sweet and our national holiday is all about how awesome our race relations are.
Mud, t-shirts, spit, sex toys and mean words have all been thrown at visiting dignitaries to Te Tii over the years. Hikoi have brought hundreds of people across the famous Waitangi bridge to protest Treaty breaches, land loss, alienation from language and culture, and damage to the environment. Last year the big issue was the TPPA's threat to the government's Treaty obligations.
All of which are newsworthy events for sure, but a small part of the bigger picture, much like only talking about Treaty relationships one day a year.
The annual programme of events at Waitangi starts on February 5th and consists of more than a pōwhiri at Te Tii marae. Amidst the packed campground at the lower Treaty ground, which is filled with families, artists, musicians, storytellers, Māori medicine and mirimiri practitioners, delicious food stalls, and Māori community organisations (all of which is smoke, drug and alcohol free), there is a public forum tent where anyone can come and speak to an audience of their peers. Community leaders come from all over the country to tap into that support network and to connect with issues concerning Māori nationwide. This year the issue of meth-use in Northland was brought to the forum, and the Māngere community of Ihumātao made an appeal for support to fight the SHA development going in next to their ancestral lands.
February 6th begins with an all-faiths dawn service at the majestic Te Whare Runanga on the upper Treaty grounds, from where you witness one of the most stunning sights New Zealand has to offer—the sun rising over the Bay of Islands. This is all followed by a waka regatta, and a day long festival of food and entertainment.
The sun begins to rise at Te Whare Runanga dawn service, Waitangi Day 2017. © Pritika Lal
But you'd be forgiven for not knowing most of that. Media coverage, especially TV news, mostly follows the same pattern. The Pākehā politicians attending Waitangi—usually the prime minister, sometimes a representative—are framed as the protagonists and the news narrative is built around their reaction to or inclusion in marae protocol. The antagonists, the Māori group or groups in opposition to their presence, are then introduced as the trouble makers making it hard for everyone to have a nice time.
This is usually accompanied by a vox pops segment where 'everyday Kiwis' are asked what Waitangi Day means to them, or my favourite variation, what they think of renaming it New Zealand Day (again). Less often, an account of the events of February 6th, 1840 are given. Even rarer still, a summary of the articles included in the Treaty of Waitangi and the subsequent ways in which they were breached by the Crown.
But this year I noticed a disruption to that trend. With the rise of independent and social media, we've started to see a different narrative emerge. Young people it seems aren't that interested in what the suits are up to—those in politics or on camera. They want to know about the Treaty itself and what it represents; why breaches continue, who is shouldering their responsibilities and who isn't, and how it will affect their future. Overwhelmingly, they want to hear from Māori.
Add to this the fact that the major newsrooms are falling over themselves to diversify—with RNZ out in front by a country mile. Mainstream media have finally cottoned on to the fact that Māori journalists can get access to stories non-Māori journos can't, the big reveal being (holy shit) that there is more than one Kiwi experience and worldview.
More people are calling for New Zealand to take its Treaty obligations seriously and not flinch or 'cringe' when we talk about Waitangi Day, and finally, the media are responding.
In 2014 the NZ Herald declared itself 'protest free' on Waitangi Day, refusing to cover any kind of disruption, which to many people amounted to an erasure of Māori history. This year they produced an infographic-filled video detailing Māori grievances and land loss, ending with the thought-provoking questions: 'Should we be celebrating? Or should we keep talking?'
The NZ Herald's protest-free issue, 6 February, 2014.
Another heartening development is the rise of media representing the elusive 18 - 35 demographic. The growing popularity of outlets like The Spinoff, The Wireless and Vice (whose Waitangi Week coverage was unparalleled) culminated in media coverage that not only gave voice to a previously apathetic (or at least unheard from) group, but also delivered it via media that looks more like the kind of content we're used to consuming throughout the rest of the year.
While Paddy Gower and Duncan Garner were having the circulation to their heads cut off by their ties and throwing tantrums about the media "ban", everyone else was getting on with producing animated videos, beautifully argued op-eds, and live-streamed panel discussions.
So after spending the week taking it all in, which is how long it took to get through all that was available (another good sign), I have separated the kaka from the miere and put together a list of interesting, engaging, and innovative Waitangi 2017 content in the hopes that the wider picture—that things are changing and young people are the catalyst—will continue to inspire us all.
The wonderful Rev. Hirini Kaa on why the prime minister should have been at Te Tii on Waitangi Day.
Simon Wilson's thought-provoking piece on what the PM got up to instead.
PM Bill English gave two speeches on Waitangi Day. Both were remarkable. Both were almost entirely ignoredPM Bill English gave two speeches on Waitangi Day. Both were remarkable. Both were almost entirely ignored
A handful of young people who "walk between the Māori and Pākehā worlds" write about what the Treaty means to them.
On Waitangi Day, Vice hosted an all-Māori panel discussion at Auckland's Golden Dawn bar, featuring Sam Te Kani, Khylee Quince, Precious Clark and moderator Liam Ratana. The event was live streamed by student radio station 95bFM (their report here)
© Haru Sameshima / VICE
This very good op-ed by Miriama Aoake looks at the "farce of national celebration" and her decision to join the protest for the first time.
Morgan Godfery's frank examination of why Waitangi Day can't be about "backyard cricket and barbecues".
First We Take Manhattan
Blogger Graham Cameron spares a thought for the Te Tii marae committee.
A group of artists and writers—"cultural leaders whose voices we often don’t get to hear on this anniversary"—weigh in on what Waitangi means to them.
The New Zealand Herald
Narrated all in te reo Māori with sub-titles, this animated video looks at the history of Te Tiriti and the land loss suffered by Māori.
© NZ Herald
The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand
Proving that good content isn't just for media, the Greens produced this cute animated video for their social media to teach people about the differences in the two interpretations of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
New Zealand Geographic
Not from 2017 but reposted by the magazine and as relevant as ever, Kennedy Warne's feature looks at the Declaration of Independence which predated the Treaty by five years, and the Te Paparahi o te Raki claim which asked the Waitangi Tribunal for a ruling on whether Ngāpuhi ceded sovereignty to the Crown.
A look at the object itself, the Treaty of Waitangi, consisting of nine documents currently housed in the Constitution Room at Wellington's National Archive.
Radio New Zealand
The annual Waitangi Rua Rautau lecture looks forward to the Waitangi bicentenary in 2040. Dame Tariana Turia, founder of the Māori Party, and economist and founder of the Opportunities Party, Gareth Morgan, present the 2017 Waitangi Rua Rautau Lectures at Te Herenga Waka Marae on the Wellington campus of Victoria University.